Haste makes waste: commingling trash and recycling vs. sustainability and core values
Many DC residents have been complaining about delays in the pick up of trash and recycling, as DPW crews have found it hard to collect in areas where snow and ice conditions make maneuvering large and heavy garbage trucks difficult and dangerous.
Someone on the ANC6A neighborhood e-list made a good suggestion, that when it is difficult to maneuver in alleys, collection should shift to the street.
In response to what mostly is whining (it's not like the problems with snow and ice aren't evident), Mayor Bowser announced a "All Hands on Deck" initiative, where DPW personnel will be out collecting trash all weekend in those areas where collections were missed.
It's to show "resolve" and action, but has a downside as according to the city's press release:
Due to public health concerns, crews will co-mingle trash and recycling to ensure that all cans are emptied as quickly as possible.In order to pick up trash expeditiously, DPW will treat recyclables as trash.
The cans are reasonably well secured, so public health concerns are minimal.
Trashing recyclables is a negative way to demonstrate the city's commitment to "sustainability," another example of the city setting practices at levels far below the state of best practice exhibited by other major cities ("Realizing all aspects of Sustainable DC"), and is an example of the lack of the existence of a strong set of values about how to perform governmental duties.
Trashed waste collection cans at the Fort Totten Transfer Station. Photo by Theresa Ahmann.
Sadly this decision demonstrates consistency for good or bad in decision making between the Gray and Bowser Administrations.
Criticized for delays in picking up the old solid waste collection bins that the city made obsolete by providing new ones, the containers--made of plastic and eminently recyclable albeit with some difficulties--were also tossed in the trash ("D.C. said it was recycling — it wasn’t. Nearly 53 tons of plastic trash cans sent to landfill," Post).
At least they ended up being converted into electricity for Fairfax County ("D.C.'s trash is now Fairfax facility's treasured commodity," Post).
From the past blog entry:
When you aim to change, being behind can be an opportunity
DC, having a lot of park land (most of it under federal control), a decent transit system, being urban so it uses less energy per capita than suburban jurisdictions, and with a high rate of trips by sustainable means, does rank highly, number eight, on the list of North American's Greenest Cities, according to the Green City Index compiled by the Economic Intelligence Unit for the German systems corporation Siemens.
But I would argue that much of this, other than the green building effort, is the result of legacy decisions made as long ago as 1790, starting with the walkable and transit-centric urban design of the core of the city by Pierre L'Enfant.
And the Green Building effort is mostly the function of current construction and development marketing practices, and the fact that DC experienced a great deal of new construction over the past 15 years.
But what about practices that the city needs to engage in now?
If DC truly wants to be "the healthiest, greenest, and most livable city" in the US, North America, or the world, it has to set high standards and expectations for a wide range of decisions on matters big (cleaning up the Anacostia River) and small (dealing with solid waste collection and management), etc.
But for being behind to be an opportunity, going forward policies and practices have to achieve at a much higher bar.
The current state of the city's "public health" is not so dire that treating recyclables as trash is an acceptable decision.
I can't imagine one of the European Union's Green Capitals--this year it's Bristol--making the same decision.